TELEM educator Larisa Klebe delivered the d’var torah for the TELEM Professional Committee Meeting in October. We are excited to share her inspiring insights into parsha Noach!
This week’s parsha is Noach, which in my opinion is one of the most difficult portions to talk about. After all, the story is so well-known and epic, and it has been analyzed inside and out. So how can I offer a new perspective on this classic story? Well, the topic I would like to discuss today is not necessarily new, but it is something that I think we need to be reminded of at least once a year. Once the flood is over, Noah sacrifices offerings of thanks to G-d. Genesis 8:20-22 reads, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking of every clean animal and of every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. The Lord smelled the pleasing odor, and the Lord said to Himself: “Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done. So long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.”
To me, “as long as the earth endures” is one of the most important phrases in the entire torah. Why? Because it is a warning to the human race that is all too often ignored. Here, G-d promises to never destroy the earth again, but at the same time, entrusts us with the responsibility of taking care of it. “As long as the earth endures” implies that the world will not last forever, that it may not survive us. We are not taking care of the earth, this gift that G-d has given us. Because of our carelessness, there’s a hole in the ozone layer, the polar ice caps are melting, and species are going extinct. There are so many signs that the earth is not enduring what we’re doing to it, and that it won’t last if drastic changes aren’t made.
The environment is a huge issue that no one person can take on by him/herself. It is going to take a collective effort to make a difference. I think real change and real healing can start when people realize: 1) That it is our responsibility as human beings to take care of the earth and 2) that the earth will not endure if we keep treating it this way. I believe this second one is more difficult than the first because it is extremely difficult to get people to realize that the end of the world is a real threat and not science fiction. If we continue with the current trend, we, humans, will bring about the world’s end. Just because G-d said G-d wouldn’t destroy the world again, doesn’t mean that it can’t and won’t happen. In time, and perhaps not even that much time, we might incur a disaster on the same scale as the great flood.
So where is the hope in this? The hope is in the fact that it is not too late. Many of today’s environmental problems can be reversed or partially reversed if people as a whole start changing their lifestyles and habits. We have to realize that all human beings are in this together. When Noah and his family got off of the ark, they were the only ones with this responsibility, a responsibility that is now shared with over 6 billion people on the planet. But we have to see ourselves as one entity in which each individual is partially responsible for making sure that the earth endures for as long as possible.
I would like to end with a story about one of my TELEM students. She read somewhere that with the way things are going now, Boston will be underwater in 2040. Now, when she says this, most people laugh at her. They laugh because they don’t want to deal with the fact that this could possibly be true. This young lady is truly terrified at this thought; and it has driven her to do everything in her power to help the environment. She recycles religiously, has started composting, and convinced her family to replace all of the light bulbs in her house. If nothing else, this shows that fear is not always a bad thing. Fear can actually motivate us to do the right thing. In Parshat Noach, G-d took away the fear that G-d would destroy the earth again. But now we have to deal with the terrifying reality that we might do this ourselves. So as we move forward in our lives this week, let’s remember our responsibility to take care of the earth, and let’s be a little more afraid.
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